A Run for the Border

Page 9 of 13

On the jukebox, someone plays a set of '80s hair metal (Poison, Whitesnake), then somebody else punches in a hip-hop set. As the music plays, a man named Gene walks in carrying the book God Is Not Great. He puts the book on the bar, gives the female bartender a fresh peach and orders a small draft beer, which comes in a round glass chalice (the large drafts come in the bigger "fishbowls"). He reads his book long enough to finish his draft and tells the bartender he'll be back tomorrow.

A guy wearing a maroon-colored button-down shirt is eating a few tacos and drinking a draft. He looks a bit out of place in a bar where T-shirts seem to be the norm. A sexy blonde sits a few seats down from him. She looks a little nervous, probably because she can feel at least three tables full of guys staring at her. Eventually, a man comes in to meet her, and they sit at one of the tables on the north side of the bar.

Two gals come in later, one wearing blue scrubs, the other wearing an obscene amount of eye makeup. "Maria, get your ass down here!" the one with the makeup yells into her cell phone. There's a momentary hush as most of the heads in the place turn toward her. She doesn't mind, and then tells the bar she'd been drinking somewhere else. — Jon Solomon

Lakeside Amusement Park
4601 Sheridan, Lakeside
8:15 p.m.

The thousands of white bulbs that adorn the Tower of Jewels are unlit tonight, meaning Lakeside Amusement Park is closed. From the base of the tower, a night watchman pokes his head through a blue doorway. There's nothing to see. School started last week, signaling the end of summer and the end of weekday operations at Lakeside. Rides like the Scrambler, the Loop-O-Plane and the Flying Dutchman are hushed until Friday at 7 p.m., when they'll start whirling and tossing patrons for the Labor Day weekend. The park will open one more weekend after that before the long off-season hibernation.

The night watchman walks across the wood-planked boardwalk to the top of the large staircase overlooking the park. Nowhere does stillness feel more dense than at a place that exists to cater to the human desire for movement. This is compounded by Lakeside's age — 100 years old next year — which is apparent in some of the long-defunct rides and timeworn facades that seem to stick in the minds of visitors as much as the nostalgia. A few nights ago, the watchman caught two young ladies lurking in the park, taking photographs of the antiquated machinery and turn-of-the-century architecture. They thought the park was abandoned and were hoping to capture images of ghosts. He escorted them out.

A figure moves down by the darkened carousel. Could be a ghost, except Brenda has too much on her mind to be an apparition. Labor Day weekend sees the biggest attendance of the year. So weeknight downtime means stock has to be inventoried at the food concessions, prizes have to be replenished in the game machines, and stands for pizza and funnel cakes near the big attractions have to be arranged. There's no way to determine how many people will show up. "But if they come," says Brenda, the park's manager of food and games, "you have to be able to feed them."

In her red Lakeside polo, Brenda looks about a decade younger than her thirty years, which may be a symptom of growing up in an amusement park that has been owned and managed by her family for nearly eighty years.

The origins of the park stretch back even further, to the late 1800s, when the site held an upper-class leisure resort centered around a grand indoor swimming pool called the Natatorium. Years later, in 1908, brewer Adolph Zang and other investors opened Lakeside with waterways, pavilions, rides and a huge boathouse modeled after the City Beautiful architecture of the Chicago World's Fair.

Zang, reportedly motivated by a desire to avoid Denver's then-restrictive liquor laws, also decided to incorporate his pretend city through Jefferson County. Today, the Town of Lakeside consists of the park and land surrounding the lake, making it one of the smallest municipalities in Colorado. (Its population of twenty people live in a handful of homes and trailers near 44th Avenue and Sheridan.) The Great Depression nearly put the park into bankruptcy, though, allowing concessionaire Benjamin Krasner, Brenda's grandfather, and two partners to buy it in 1935. The new ownership undertook a massive renovation, adding the now-classic Cyclone roller coaster, the Loop-O-Plane, and much of the neon flourish that distinguishes the park today.

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